Grappa, Glam Rock and Gluttony in the Eternal City

A Gonzo account of four days and four nights Rome:

Wednesday February 22:

It was missus Gonzo’s special birthday on February 23, so we decided to hit Rome for a few days. What was supposed to be a low key few affairs consisting of sightseeing, gorging and chilling turned into a bit of a rock n’ roll adventure.

After an early flight to Fuimicino Airport we got a minivan to drive us to the neighborhood of Prati, as there was a public transport strike till midday. Prati is a nice residential area in the vicinity of the Vatican, mostly populated by professional liars… I mean lawyers. How fitting.

It’s on the west side of the Tiber River and a short walk to the historical city centre, with its lavish fountains and palaces. But there’s a small matter of passing the Vatican first. Never before in my life was I hounded by more tourist hustlers per square millimeter than when next to the so-called ‘Holy See.’ The first 50 got a shrug or a ‘no thanks,’ but I ended up shouting ‘Sotona de merda’ by the end of the street. Andrea told me to chill, as the whole of the city was not only full of regular cops and carabinieri, but also soldiers sporting big ass machine guns. Projecting a false sense of security, I guess.

We took a stroll to the Spanish Steps, Fontana de Trevi, and a bunch of other Baroque highlights. It was intermittently fascinating, annoying and overwhelming. There are only so much sprawling palaces and buffed up heroic statues one can take among a sea of selfie sticks. But it was all to be expected and it does have its grandiose charm.

Back at the apartment we took a long siesta to prepare for the night to come.

On the agenda was a visit to a rock n’ roll dive bar and gastropub called Big Star, situated in the picturesque neighborhood of Trastevere.

When the walls are covered with posters of bands like Big Star (Chilton!), Radio Birdman and Eddie and the Hot Rods you know you’re in a good place. It was a laid back Wednesday night with just a bit too much space era Bowie and The Smiths on the stereo, but the burger and the lasagna were tasty.

We called it a night at a decent hour, as there was plenty to do and celebrate the next day.

Thursday February 23:

The b-day girl wanted to check out the Basilica of St. Peter, so we braved the hordes of moronic tourists and hustlers to have a peek inside this fascinating monstrosity. Built on the site of an old church from the 4th century AD, it was rebuilt and designed by Michelangelo and a few other Renaissance hot shots in the in the 16th century.

Just the sheer scale of it is jaw dropping. It’s 220 by 150 meters and another 135 meters high. As expected, I was flooded with conflicting emotions. On one hand, I was fascinated by the vision, artistry and skill involved in constructing something of this size, but also repelled by the kitschy opulence, the decadence and hypocrisy that is represents.

Next stop, the Coliseum… Much more to my liking. This monument to slavery and sadism resonated with me. Sounds like a contradiction, of course it is. We all project our own feelings and experiences onto these historical landmarks and Kirk Douglas as the defiant Spartacus coloured my view of it.

The remnants of the Roman Forum next to the Coliseum are as impressive as they are ruined, but situated in between Palatine and Capitoline hills there is a sprawling cinematic quality to them.

After all the walking we were ready for a serious birthday gorge fest. We decided on the Flavio al Velavevodetto restaurant in the Testacio district – a working class neighborhood with some of the best traditional eateries.

We went all out, starting with anti pasti, followed by the primo and secondo piatto, respectively pasta and meat or fish main dish. However my plate of pasta – fettuccine with sausage and pork ribs pronounced by the waiter as ’pork ryabes,’ was so massive that I was full to bursting at that point.

I soldiered on through the main course, Coratella, consisting of a wonderful mix of lung, liver and heart sautéed with onions, but I had to concede a rare gastronomical defeat and left my plate half eaten.

We washed it down with excellent grappa and stumbled outside. Our objective was the Trente Formichi club where the punk blues combo The Barsexuals were playing with a DJ set by the guys from the great local record label, Teenadelic Records.

On the map the place looked remote and it was an ordeal getting there. It was on the outskirts of town under the railroad tracks and next to the old city’s fortified walls… What a setting!

Finally there we were just in time for The Barsexuals set – a three-piece combo in the vein of The Gun Club. I hate banging on about it, but some bands just plain need a bass player. The groovy, swampy beats and the shrieking guitar and vocal were begging for some fatty bass foundation.

Luckily the DJ set by the Teenadelic guys, one of them is the lead guitar player of Guida, was all fatty beats, big riffs and sing-a-long choruses. It was a non-stop barrage of obscure glam nuggets with a little Feelgood, Rose Tattoo and MC5 thrown in the mix. Fekkin’ perfect if you ask me.

Shout out to one of the bookers from Trente Giuseppe who called us a cab to haul our asses way across town back to our apartment.

Friday February 24:

We rose fairly early to get a metro to the legendary Cinecitta Studios. The biggest of its kind in Europe, it was opened in 1937 by the fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, to be used as a powerful propaganda tool.

Bombed by the Allies in WWII, it became a refugee camp in the years following the War. In the 50s and the 60s it got the nickname ‘Hollywood on the Tiber,’ with historical epics such as Ben Hur, Cleopatra and Quo Vadis having been shot there.

It was also the lifelong playground of the Italian master Federico Fellini, who has a whole building on the lot dedicated to his work.

Apart from some kids that looked like they were on a school assignment, it was just a handful of us there. We got a tour of three monumental movie sets, including Jerusalem and ancient and medieval Rome. Absolutely mind blowing! Walking around these huge life-like sets was a Goosebumps-o-rama for a movie buff like me.

We then took a stroll through the Fellini Museum and another one spanning the whole history from the late 30s to modern day productions like Gangs of New York and the series The Young Pope. Again, highly recommended.

As we were gonna go out in the student district of San Lorenzo, we looked for a highly rated traditional restaurant in the area. We found I Porchettoni, an absolute gem. From the burrata and prosciutto, to the simple perfection of pasta cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) to the stupendous main of maiale di latte (suckling pig). After washing it down with excellent local red wine and a few shots of pair flavoured grappa Williams I ended up hugging and kissing the waiter.

On to Sally Brown Rude-pub – Owned by the guys from Banda Bassotti, the biggest left wing skinhead band in Italy, this is the main hangout for anti-fascist punks, skins and herberts. Immediately after ordering a couple of beers at the bar we started talking an Argentinian girl Alejandra, who was travelling around Europe, and an Italian guy called Matteo whom she met in Buenos Aires eight years ago. Way back when I played in a street punk band and lo and behold my man Matteo remembered us. As we reminisced about 90s punk rock, we were enjoying a cool set by DJ Brusca, spinning, ska, rocksteady, 2-Tone and Northern Soul.

After a few beers they invited us to a gig nearby at the 360gradiroma Club, where a few hardcore and oi! bands were playing. Not completely my cup of noise anymore, but when in a new city with new friends, why the hell not!

The first band on the bill was Choke Wire, from Rome, who played hardcore in the Cro Mags mode. They were tight as hell and energetic and it was fun being in the atmosphere where I spent most of my teenage years.

Next up were Nofu from Torino, a band with more of a Suicidal Tendencies sound. They couldn’t really hold my attention and I just remember a lot of guys jumping around.

Finally it was time for the oi! band Tacita, also local heroes from Rome. Normally this would’ve been a bit more my cup of tea, but unfortunately it looked and sounded as if these guys spend all their money on going to the gym instead of the rehearsal room. Flat rhythms, metallic guitars and generic sing-a-long choruses. The only redeeming value was the fact that they were singing in Italian, which made it mildly interesting for a while.

Matteo put it well when he said, “Beginners, don’t waste my time!” So we sucked on a few more beers at the bar and called it a night, with a vow to meet up at Sally Brown again the following day.

Saturday February 25:

Next on the agenda, a visit to the enormous castle of St. Angelo. Built as a mausoleum in the 2nd century AD by the Emperor Hadrian, it was later turned into a fortress and prison. It has numerous corridors and prison cells full of ancient weaponry. Catapults, primitive rifles and cannons sit next to sculptures of weeping saints. The upper deck of the castle sports magnificent views of the city skyline and conveniently there’s a bar there too.

Instead of going to another restaurant we decided to go full on with the street food. A bunch of different pizza slices and arancini did the job and we were back at Sally Brown to meet our old, new friends.

Alejandra and Matteo were joined by a couple they met at the famous ‘Bar of the Uglies, ’ a San Lorenzo cult neighborhood pub that’s frequented by a young crowd these days, that’s far from being ugly.

Long into the night we blabbered about everything and anything from the fall of Yugoslavia, housing problems in Italy, football, boxing and the Catholic Church. All in a hybrid mix of English, Italian and Spanish. In the end the coolest thing about these trips is meeting new, open-minded people with whom you can share drinks and stories and get a feel of what’s really going on. And usually, the stories you hear from them differ quite a bit from the narrative that’s being served by the mass media.

As we had to check out at ten in the morning and Alejandra was also about to resume her Euro-trip it was time the kiss and hug goodbye and look forward to meeting each other again. Somewhere between Rome, Amsterdam, Belgrade and Buenos Aires…

-Marko Petrovic